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The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian (Cambridge Companions to the Ancient World) [Paperback]

Michael Maas

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Book Description

18 April 2005 Cambridge Companions to the Ancient World
This book introduces the Age of Justinian, the last Roman century and the first flowering of Byzantine culture. Dominated by the policies and personality of emperor Justinian I (527–565), this period of grand achievements and far-reaching failures witnessed the transformation of the Mediterranean world. In this volume, twenty specialists explore the most important aspects of the age including the mechanics and theory of empire, warfare, urbanism, and economy. It also discusses the impact of the great plague, the codification of Roman law, and the many religious upheavals taking place at the time. Consideration is given to imperial relations with the papacy, northern barbarians, the Persians, and other eastern peoples, shedding new light on a dramatic and highly significant historical period.

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'The publication of The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian is a major achievement and event in the field of Byzantine studies that promises to raise to a higher level study of the East Roman world at its 6th-century apogee. … contains a vast amount of information and learning for which student and specialist alike will be grateful.' The Anglo-Hellenic Review

'… excellent book … extremely readable - comprehensible to the relative beginner, and yet containing enough material to keep the interest of the expert historian … We would also life to recommend it to the acquisition staff of the House of Commons Library and the Library of Congress to perhaps help educate our masters of the dangers of short-term military ventures and the possibilities of setting up peaceful, stable, multicultural societies.' Reference Reviews

'It will serve as an accessible introduction to the period for students and may also spark some new scholarly trains of thought. it is attractively presented, larded with colour and black-and-white illustrations and a number of particularly helpful maps and diagrams.' Journal of Ecclesiastical History

'… with this volume, a collection of contributions from well-known specialists, we now have an exhaustive and up-to-date compendium of the sixth century … this volume offers a competent introduction to the reign of one of the most important Roman emperors and its circumstances.' Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Book Description

This book introduces the Age of Justinian, the last Roman century and the first flowering of Byzantine culture. Dominated by the policies and personality of emperor Justinian I (527–565), this period of grand achievements and far-reaching failures witnessed the transformation of the Mediterranean world.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful but uneven 26 Feb 2006
By Florentius - Published on
This book is 600 pages of recent scholarship on the Age of Justinian divided into 20 articles from a variety of scholars, mostly from the English-speaking world. Ambitious in scope, it covers the many different aspects of life in the Justinianic era: religious, economic, political, legal, military, social, and artistic.

As an edited collection of papers, it suffers from the general curse of that particular format, namely uneven quality. Several of the articles are superior, providing useful information clearly and presenting new ideas in a compelling fashion. Among these, I found the articles by John F. Haldon (Economy and Administration: How Did the Empire Work?), Caroline Humfress (Law and Legal Practice in the Age of Justinian), Charles Pazdernik (Justinianic Ideology and the Power of the Past), and Joseph D. Alchermes (Art and Architecture in the Age of Justinian) to be the most insightful, informative, and well-written. I dog-eared the most pages in Pazdernik's article, which is generally a good indication that the author had a great number of interesting points to make in his discussion of John the Lydian.

In the less useful camp, I found the article on "Mediterranean Plague in the Age of Justinian" to be a confusing jumble of facts and ideas, and considerably less helpful than I had hoped. Also, the article "Emperors and Popes in the Sixth Century: The Western View" was simply bizarre. The author seemed at great pains to hold to the pathetic unwritten academic stricture: "Say nothing which may put the Catholic Church and the Papacy in a good light." One would think that in an article covering the relationship between Justinian and the various Popes of Rome, the deposition of Pope Silverius by Justinian's agents in Italy would have merited more than a one-line mention.

In the "undecided" camp was the article by Leslie Brubaker, "The Age of Justinian: Gender and Society." The article begins with an eye-rolling statement of doctrinaire feminist orthodoxy, namely that male and female behavior has nothing to do with genetics, but is a wholly social construct. After this inauspicious beginning, the article goes on to discuss some very interesting topics indeed. Getting beyond the hardly credible theory that Theodora's "burial shroud" speech is a Procopian fabrication, the author's discussion of Anicia Juliana and her patronage of the great church of St. Polyeuktos made for very interesting reading.

The book has many other useful bits as well: two sections of color plates which are referred to in the articles; several maps of Constantinople, the Roman Empire and Mediterranean world in the 6th century showing the political, economic, and military situation; and two very helpful tables which lay out the civic, military, and palatine administrations in graphic form. Overall, this book is a handy introduction to the Age of Justinian and will be a good starting point for serious students of late Roman/early Byzantine civilization.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Generally excellent but occasionally imperfect articles; stellar addenda, maps, and plates 29 July 2011
By Kirialax - Published on
As this is a large collection of twenty articles on widely divergent topics, I will attempt to give some individual treatment to separate articles. In a collection of articles like this, one should not expect that a few minor issues should hold down the entire volume, especially since so many topics and authors are represented. To start with, this book is well-organized, and covers a wide breadth of topics relating to the central sixth century. Physically, it is an attractive, solid book with good weight to it. There are two fairly substantial sections of plates, the first entirely in colour, primarily showcasing some of the brilliant artwork from this age including the Ravenna mosaics and the Hagia Sophia. The second set of plates is all greyscale, but contains useful images of coins, architecture, and manuscript folios. Sixteen maps (!) are included throughout the text. Cambridge University Press sure knows how to make me happy. Another wonderful feature that I was not expecting is the select list of ancient sources. While it is not complete and the descriptions are typically limited to a small paragraph per source, the brief introduction as well as references to modern translations and major works in English will undoubtedly be useful to students.

The articles themselves are generally very good and informative. Given that there are twenty of them, I am only going to comment on a few. Horden's article on the plague was absolutely exceptional. I will not disagree with the other reviewer Florentius' argument that the article is somewhat of a mess, but having studied enough modern literature on the plague I am convinced that she does far more than an acceptable job in representing the state of scholarship. The evidence is enormously contradictory and hard to work with, and she does a fine job of demonstrating just how difficult it is to assess the plague. I found John Haldon's article on the economy and the administration of the empire to be rather uninspired, but perhaps that is because I've read many of his books that deal extensively with just that topic (most recently, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c.680-850: A History discusses much of what he describes here in much greater detail) but it still remains an invaluable summary. Maas' introduction chapter is actually quite good and helps to set the stage for the entire volume. He discusses the changing nature of the Roman Empire in the east in the sixth century and Justinian's role in fusing Roman, Greek, and Christian civilization into something new, as well as outlining some of the continuities and changes that took place during the Age of Justinian. Croke's article on Constantinople was rather uninspiring. Perhaps the editor felt that it was necessary to have a description of the city where so much of the power politics of the age of Justinian took place and where its namesake figure lived most of his life, but the article is utterly unremarkable and adds little to the discussion. Alchermes' article on the art and architecture of the age is similarly uninspired, but has a few interesting notes on the relation between art and power. Lee's article, 'The Empire at War' is much like Haldon's in that it is a good description of the effectiveness of Justinian's armies and how they were organized. It is nothing new, but the fact that it is a succinct summary will make it useful for students. Pazdernik's article on Justinianic ideology was quite interesting and provides a unique view into imperial propaganda through the use of Roman law. Like Florentius, I share Sotinel's reservation about the article on emperors and popes in the sixth century: why does the arrest of Pope Silverius get so little attention. Other than that, however, I found the article to be rather illuminating, especially given that it is a western view towards an eastern Roman emperor who felt that he had the authority to meddle in religious matters. I actually found myself reading Brubaker's article on gender and society. This is not the sort of article that I would regularly read, but I am sure glad I did. Her assertions and conclusions actually seem rather irrelevant, but the meat of the article discusses how to read the works of Prokopios and John Lydos in light of gender history, which is important. I have long suspected that the prominent role of women in Prokopios was used to contrast the behaviour of the men to "old fashioned" Roman morals, and Brubaker supports these ideas. I would take it further than she does in regard to the 'Anekdota', but that was not the goal of the article. No one intending to read Prokopios should skip Brubaker's article, despite how irrelevant its title makes it sound. Donner's article on the background to Islam may seem like the odd man out, but it actually fits of the volume quite well as he does an excellent job of demonstrating how Islam fits into the late sixth and early seventh centuries.

This is a fine set of articles by some of the most important scholars in the field supplemented by a generous selection of maps, plates, and tables. A few little criticisms of a few articles in not enough to warrant knocking off a star. An absolutely essential read for understanding Justinian and his era.
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